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Calls for global action as Arctic sea ice hits record low

Glaciers are melting faster than previously recorded, scientists say. Photo: ITV News

The Arctic sea ice cover recorded this year is the lowest since satellite records began, scientists say, prompting renewed calls for action and stark warnings on the impact of the warming Arctic on global sea levels.

The annual 'maximum extent' of ice covering in the Arctic marks the beginning of the sea ice melt season and is used by scientists to calculate the level of cover.

Science Correspondent Alok Jha has been to the northernmost city in the Arctic, where scientists have been measuring glacial retreat and reporting worrying findings on the state of the climate that they are hoping global leaders will heed.

This year's findings, released in the past week, from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), rang alarm bells with scientists across the globe.

On February 25, 2015, Arctic sea ice extent appeared to have reached its annual maximum extent, marking the beginning of the sea ice melt season. This year’s maximum extent not only occurred early; it is also the lowest in the satellite record. However, a late season surge in ice growth is still possible.

– National Snow and Ice Data Centre

Professor Doug Benn, a Glaciologist from the St Andrew's University in Scotland who is currently working at the University of Svalbard, has been studying the Tunabreen glacier in Svalbard.

He told ITV News there are strong indications the scale of glacier retreat - which began centuries ago - has accelerated greatly recently.

The initial retreat seems to be mainly from natural causes, as the earth warmed at the end of what is called little ice age, but human activity has taken over as the main driver of warming in the Arctic now.

– Professor Doug Benn

Professor Benn explained one of the focuses his study was on the "calving" of ice - the process by which large icebergs fall from glaciers into the sea - as this process transfers ice a lot quicker from land to sea. This in turn impacts sea levels, causing them to rise.

Professor Adrian Luckman, from the University of Swansea and University Centre in Svalbald, explained part of the reason for the glacial melt was warmer temperatures in the ocean. He said the rate of retreat of the glaciers was increasing all over the Arctic as well as the Antarctica.

Dr Kim Holmen, Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute, described how the melting of the glaciers was having a negative effect on the entire climate system.

Speaking from Longyearben he said the melted glaciers were changing the life of the animals, plants and birds that rely on the area to survive.

Tunabreen glacier, where maximum ice appears to have reached its peak for the year, scientists said. Credit: ITV News

He warned of the global impact that the changes being observed in the Arctic, and said it was clearly past time for humans to act to mitigate the impact of their actions.

We see change today and we see obvious traces of human impact on climate...it is of importance to do something now. Changes will be coming regardless of what we do but we must do something to minimise the influence of human and climates.

– Dr Kim Holmen

The melting of glaciers is the single biggest contributor to rising sea levels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) says.

Sea levels have been rising steadily since the 1970s due to a combination of ocean thermal expansion - a term used to describe the increase in volume and decrease in density of the ocean as the result of the increased temperature of the water - and the increased water caused from the melting of glaciers and ice sheets.

Glacier retreat is being measured by scientists. Credit: ITV News

A video made by the University Centre in Svalbard shows the rate of shrinkage recorded from May to November in 2014.

The impact of the current rises are being felt across the UK - and the Met Office is warning that by 2030 a rise of between 11- 16 cm is likely.In February last year, the Met Office warned:

With the warming we are already committed to over the next few decades, a further overall 11-16cm of sea level rise is likely by 2030, relative to 1990, of which at least two - thirds will be due to the effects of climate change.

We are very confident that sea level will continue to rise over coming decades as the planet continues to warm, and these numbers represent our current best estimate for the UK.

– Met Office.